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Research undertaken in Northern Ireland shows that SEN teachers who score highly on mental toughness cope better with pupils who present challenging behaviour in the classroom.

Stress and burnout, as a result of having to deal with challenging behaviour, is one of the major reasons why teachers decide to leave the classroom. An Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) report indicated that 90% of teachers report having to deal with disruptive behaviour in the classroom resulting in them suffering from stress, anxiety and a loss of confidence. Within Northern Ireland, teacher statistics for 2013/14 indicated that 11.2 days were lost in special schools due to sickness.

Mental Toughness is an aspect of our personality which determines how individuals deal with stress, pressure and challenge. Those who are mentally tough perceive their environment as controllable and see challenge as an opportunity. Therefore, teachers who are equipped with the skills to become more mentally tough are likely to perceive pupil’s challenging behaviour in a more positive way.

Research carried out in Northern Ireland by Diane Nugent examined the Mental Toughness of special educational needs (SEN) teachers and the need for additional training to cope with challenging behaviour. Data was gathered from 50 teachers with a range of years in the teaching profession. Teachers mental toughness was measured using the Mental Toughness Questionnaire.

The results showed that only 6% of teachers reported feeling confident about dealing with challenging classroom behaviour. Despite a low number of teachers reporting that they feel confident dealing with challenging behaviour, 70% thought themselves to be Mentally Tough! However, the mean score for participant’s Mental Toughness indicated that they were more mentally sensitive than tough.

The research also found that there was a significant link between mental toughness and confidence levels in teachers – the more Mentally Tough a teacher, the higher their confidence levels. This research suggests that mental toughness can protect individuals when it comes to dealing with challenging behaviour.

The research provides a breakthrough in understanding the fundamentals of students and teachers’ interaction in the classroom. This shows the benefits of mental toughness interventions in developing teacher confidence levels.

For further information on the Mental Toughness framework and the Mental Toughness Questionnaire, please contact Diane or AQR –